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  • 28th Aug 2019

Helping people back into work and helping others take up the mantle

Today sees the publication of a peer reviewed paper in the Journal of Public Policy. You can read the paper here. The paper details two trials we ran in jobcentres in Essex. The interventions that we tested in Essex involved the development of new way of conceiving the job-search process. 

Previously job seekers had to document what it is that they had done to find work. This conversation only had a few possible directions: “Great work” or “That’s not good enough”. Jobcentre staff could not use their skills and experience to coach job seekers. Furthermore, the actions of the past can’t be changed. We trained job centre advisors to ask what it is job seekers will do to find work. Future plans are malleable and allow the development of a coaching relationship, rather than a relationship built on assessing compliance. 

We also cut down the amount of paperwork in the initial meetings that job seekers and jobcentre staff had, This gave everyone more time to talk about finding work and people’s aspirations rather than how they would comply with regulations. The results from these experiments were very positive and led to people finding work who otherwise would not have.

These two field experiments were also carried out in 2012 and 2013. A quick look at your watch would suggest that this has taken a while. The peer review process can take time. This time allows reviewers to do their due diligence to make sure that our work is robust and meets the exacting standards of the academic world. 

The publication of the paper means that our work can reach a new audience and therefore spread the uptake of behavioural insights and evidence based policy. The paper has also allowed us to explore some deeper theoretical and technical aspects of the trial. Work in implementation science has shown that the findings from theoretical and technical reports can lead to policy change.

However, the peer review process is only one way to disseminate the findings of behavioural insights work. We’ve already described these trials in our annual update back in 2015 and again in our monograph “Applying Behavioural Insights to Labour Markets”. These documents were designed to reach an audience of policy makers, with the implicit aim of getting others to take up the use of Behavioural Insights. These documents described the principles behind the ideas we were testing and offered policymakers ways in which they can use the principles in other labour market settings.

In the last 6 years, we have been able to work with our partners to spread and develop these ideas in lots of different settings. In New South Wales, we were able to apply these ideas to help injured workers. In Singapore and at the federal level in Australia, the same ideas were also used to help people find work.  Importantly, we were able to help DWP scale the interventions across the UK right after the two trials described in the paper. Our work here meant that millions of people were more likely to find work from 2013 onwards.

Why does this matter? The eagle eyed among will notice that where work has shown that the lessons from academic papers can make it to broader practice, it can take a long time. In medicine, it is estimated to take 17 years to get from bench to bedside. Just relying on academic findings to diffuse to improve the lives of citizens is not enough. We need to use as many channels as possible to spread ideas and help others take them forward.  

This blogpost has been drafted by Alex Gyani, but the work described would not have been possible without a large number of people. The authors of the paper published are: Michael Sanders, Guglielmo Briscese, Rory Gallagher, Alex Gyani, Samuel Hanes, Elspeth Kirkman and Owain Service. We would also not have been able to undertake this work without the dedicated staff at the Jobcentres in Essex.  We would particularly like to thank Stu Bennett, Chris Mullan and Hayley Carney. We would also like to acknowledge Joanne Reinhard and Claudia Cerrone’s work on the project.


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